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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Metamorphosen [26:28]
Orchestre de la Radiodiffusion Français/Jascha Horenstein
rec. 30 June 1953, Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris
Sinfonia Domestica, Op. 53 [44:57]
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Jascha Horenstein
rec. live, 19 February 1961, BBC Maida Vale Studio. London

Here is another valuable issue from Pristine Audio which all admirers of Jascha Horenstein will welcome.

The recording of Metamorphosen was made under studio conditions for EMI in 1953. According to the sleeve-note for the original LP issue Horenstein assembled 23 players who had recently performed the work with him in concert. Andrew Rose tells us that the LP won a Grand Prix du Disque in 1954 but this has faded from view and has never appeared on CD. He believes this is because the original recording had a lack of depth which inhibited satisfactory reproduction of lower frequencies. Well, he has worked his usual alchemy with the transfer and I for one have no complaint about the bass response in this transfer.

The performance is a fine one. The French string players may not quite match the silky sheen and richness of Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic but even so they play very well indeed. Horenstein is highly persuasive in this score. He’s expressive yet he keeps the music moving forward. Overall it’s an excellent and deeply considered performance. It’s great news that it’s available again after so long – and in a transfer worthy of it.

The other recording here is a little more problematic. The source is an off-air recording of a 1961 BBC Home Service broadcast and the recording has never been published previously. Andrew Rose comments that the fidelity is lower than EMI achieved on their studio recording of Metamorphosen – that’s scarcely surprising. He admits also that the first few minutes of the recording are somewhat compromised by tape dropout. To be sure, the sound isn’t as good as that which we experience in the companion piece but I found that my ears adjusted. The recording is perfectly serviceable, though not as refulgent and detailed as such a rich score ideally requires.

The Sinfonia Domestica is a controversial score on account of its depiction of household life chez Strauss in almost embarrassingly full detail. To compound this I’m not at all sure that Strauss was at his most inspired in this work though the scoring is as inventive as you’d expect from this master orchestrator. This performance is a good one though the playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra is not flawless – I doubt they were very familiar with the score before working on it with Horenstein.

I like Horenstein’s way with the Wiegenlied section. He shapes the music affectionately and the BBCSO respond with some nice woodwind work and expressive contributions from the strings. In the Adagio that follows Horenstein is suitably expansive but I have the sense that he is careful not to overdo things when he gets to the hothouse passages; that’s wise. I fear that the finale is somewhat garrulous and over-extended; in the last few minutes one gets the feeling that Strauss didn’t quite know when – or how – to stop. Nonetheless Horenstein achieves a good degree of clarity in even the most complex contrapuntal pages and that’s no mean achievement. It’s not a score that’s anywhere near the top of my Strauss list of favourites but Horenstein is a pretty convincing exponent of it.

These are two rarities in the Horenstein discography and, as such deserve a warm welcome. It’s interesting to hear him in Sinfonia Domestica but the real prize is Metamorphosen.
John Quinn



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